The event was not held on a commercial basis, but put together at the cost of all those that participated. It showcased that it is possible to bring the industry together through organised events that will stimulate the economy and boost employment whilst taking place safely.

"As an industry, we shouldn't be COVID-19 restricted, but rather COVID-19 managed," says Craig Newman, group chief executive officer of GL Events South Africa and former President of UFI, The Global Association of the Exhibition Industry.

"We should not be classified as mass gatherings, as we are organised events that can be completely COVID-19 compliant. The industry is so well regulated, even before the global pandemic, and the organisers and venues involved are more than capable of putting together a public event that falls within the World Health Organisation and local government COVID-19 regulations," adds Newman.

Forty industry-related exhibitors engaged with government officials, members of non-governmental organisations, industry associations, business representatives, media and industry colleagues.

In addition to the exhibition stands, business lounge, meeting rooms and restaurants, a high powered seminar programme saw multipliers of business, health officials and authorities exchange ideas and discuss ways in which to take the South African economy forward in a safe and healthy manor. All sessions were live-streamed with participants from around the globe.

According to the event, the exhibition, events and conferencing industry has been particularly hard hit by the impacts of the COVID-19 virus and its health and safety ramifications. The majority of events planned for 2020 had to either be postponed or cancelled.

The event highlights that the impact of COVID-19 has seen the global exhibition industry revenue reduce to 30% in 2020 compared to 2019 levels. It has created serious economic difficulties as the sector is defined by many small and medium companies who are struggling to make it through the year.

Around 1.9 million jobs have been affected globally in exhibition and tourism-related activities and it is estimated that almost $300-billion USD of contract value between exhibition participants has not been generated.

This from an industry where exhibitions alone had a global economic impact of $325-billion USD add business events, meetings and conferencing and the total increases to around $1-trillion USD.

"Listening to our seminar speakers talk about the tourism aspects of what needs to be done to help our local economy recover and bounce back, it shows how exhibitions, events and conferencing have an enormous role to play," says Gary Corin, managing director of Specialised Exhibitions, a division of the Montgomery Group.

"In addition to the industries they serve, exhibitions also contribute to regional development and generate revenue for the travel and business tourism sector, as well as hotels, restaurants, retail and transportation," adds Corin.

"Global research has indicated that for every dollar (ZAR, euro or whichever currency) that is invested in putting together an event of this nature, it generates anything between six to eight dollars into that local economy, and that's even before the trade that happens on the floor of the event is taken into account," Corin says. 

The event aimed to show that exhibitions, events and conferencing can be part of the solution to negate the impact of COVID-19 on the economy. It's where meeting places are built, market places where industries come together, for people to connect, for supply to meet demand and for business to restart.

"In essence, the core message of the Restart Expo to the government around reopening is: bring us in, let us run shows. We know how to do it. We can bring everyone back together safely and this is what will help to drive the economic recovery," says Newman.

"There really is no reason to keep the industry closed. We have big facilities available, we are professionals and we are able to ensure compliance to all COVID-19 protocols," Newman concludes.

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